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USWNT can’t solve France, falling 3-1 in first 2019 friendly

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The U.S. looked well short of their best in Le Havre

Caitlin Buckley

2019 is a huge year for the United States women’s national team, but it didn’t get off to the kind of start the USWNT would have wanted. Two goals from Kadidiatou Diani paced France to a 3-1 win at a frigid Stade Oceane in Le Havre this afternoon. Marie-Antoinette Katoto made it three, before Mallory Pugh pulled one back in stoppage time.

Head coach Jill Ellis retained the 433 formation that has been in place for the past year, but still had some surprises in her first eleven of 2019. Emily Fox got a surprise start at left back, while Crystal Dunn pushed up into the midfield trio. The Washington Spirit’s Mallory Pugh started on the right wing. Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath, Casey Short, Julie Ertz, and Kelley O’Hara were not in uniform due to injuries, though none are believed to be serious.

France opened the game aggressively, and eventually capitalized on some hesitation from Fox, who was facing her first truly big test at this level. Fox initially won the race to the ball after a midfield turnover, but the University of North Carolina defender slowed down early, allowing Delphine Cascarino to push her aside and storm forward. Cascarino cut the ball back from the endline, picking out Kadidiatou Diani, who took a touch and fired low past a helpless Alyssa Naeher.

The French were largely dominating play by being the mentally faster team, leaving the Americans grasping at straws (such as a cross/shot from Press in the minutes after the goal). Still, France seemed content to not press their advantage too much, staying in a mid-block and waiting to break out after U.S. possessions ended in turnovers.

The problems on the left side continued for the USWNT with three looks around the half-hour mark. First, Cascarino again seized on Fox’s inexperience, poking the ball down the touchline before having her cross blocked. A 28th minute one-two between Cascarino and Marion Torrent saw the latter bend in a dangerous cross for Eugenie Le Sommer, whose header forced a fine save from Naeher. Less than a minute later, Cascarino pumped in another cross on the right, leaving Fox behind once again only for Naeher to punch it clear.

The USWNT had a brief reply, as Press struck a powerful shot right at Bouhaddi from 25 yards a minute later, but the game was still clearly all France. Naeher had to produce a top-drawer save in the 39th minute after France kept a corner kick alive in the box. Diani was clearly offside, but a missed clearance attempt from Horan let the ball get to her, the flag never came up, and Naeher did very well to keep the U.S. in the game.

Another corner found a French head just seconds later, as Amel Majri’s back post service found both Diani and Henry open. Diani won the header ahead of her team captain, but Naeher smothered it just before it got over the line.

The USWNT finally started getting the balls in behind they were looking for, though a narrow offside call against Pugh and a brave punch from Sarah Bouhaddi got France out of jeopardy before anything could come from the opportunities.

Morgan nearly broke through again to start the second half, this time after Press did wonderfully to carry the ball through midfield and slip a pass in behind. Bouhaddi snuffed the chance out at Morgan’s feet, though the officials also said Morgan was offside.

France’s ability to force the U.S. into bad spots came through again in the 51st minute. Pressure up the American right forced a series of hurried passes, eventually forcing Abby Dahlkemper into the midfield chasing down a stray ball. Amandine Henry arrived with a strong tackle, pushing the ball forward. Becky Sauerbrunn’s intervention pinged off Emily Sonnett before coming back to Le Sommer, who fired inches wide from the top of the box.

The U.S. start to the half was better, with Pugh getting a couple chances to cross and a useful one-two between Press and Horan opening up a chance out on the left. Still, other than Morgan nearly getting to a Pugh cross, the final ingredients weren’t quite there, and Ellis made her first sub in the 53rd minute, removing Fox and deploying Tierna Davidson in an unorthodox left back role.

France had a reply, though, going ahead 2-0 in the 57th minute. The Americans turned the ball over at midfield again, with Torrent reading the situation and immediately pushing the ball into space behind the defense for Diani. Diani may well have been trying to cross, but her lunging effort ended up slicing over Naeher and just barely inside the post.

Dunn began pushing up very high in the midfield, and some clever work from Morgan nearly put her through on goal in the 70th minute. Morgan dropped off the front line before dishing the ball into the space she vacated, but Bouhaddi once again won the race to the ball, clearing with her feet.

Ellis brought Carli Lloyd in for Sonnett moments later, shifting Dunn to right back and bringing with her instructions to push the lines way up. However, the next chances came from France: first, center back Wendie Renard thought she had made it 3-0 after prodding home the rebound from a vicious shot by Elise Bussaglia, but this time the flag came up, wiping the goal out.

Then, in the 78th minute, France put the game to bed. Yet another midfield turnover, this time from Dunn, gave the French the ball while the Americans were in an attacking posture. A quick ball over the top was all it took, as Marie-Antoinette Katoto outran Dahlkemper and Becky Sauerbrunn. Naeher chose to stay on her line until it was too late, losing the race to the ball, and Katoto touched the ball away from her before rolling home her side’s third goal.

Caitlin Buckley

Press stayed busy, knifing across the French defense to nod Pugh’s cross just wide in the 83rd minute, before Ellis brought in Jess McDonald and Sam Mewis for Morgan and Horan. France were still able to produce looks, though, with Gaetane Thiney setting Katoto up again in the 88th minute only for Naeher to come off her line much faster this time around.

Not that it helped much, the U.S. did manage a consolation goal in the 91st minute. McDonald started the move, dipping into the midfield to combine with Lloyd. Lloyd’s pass initially looked like easy work for Torrent, but Pugh kept working, getting around her to steal the ball and shoot back across goal, just under Bouhaddi and just inside the post.

The USWNT is back in action on Tuesday, January 22nd, as they travel across the Pyrenees to face Spain in Alicante. Highlights will be added when they are made available.